‘Magnolia’ stresses on the stories of nine characters — most of whom are or have been involved in television — over the course of a day in California’s San Fernando Valley. The stories are intermixed and unfold chronologically.
The film opens up oddly, with seemingly unrelated incidents being narrated: Three men hanged in the area of London in which their crimes were committed; a scuba diver is found dead on top of a pine tree, having been grabbed out of the lake he was diving in by a plane, which then delivered him on top of that tree; a suicide which becomes a murder as the jumper falls past the apartment window where his mother, arguing with his father, fires a shotgun out the window, killing her son as he falls. The question arises, are these mere co-incidences or something less random? Are these the random interjections of our universe?
The film packs an ensemble of memorable performances. Tom Cruise barges on the screen as the misogynist TJ Mackay, delivering a powerful sermon to a group of men on the art of seducing their female conquests (Seducing and destroying more precisely), Cruise, in a never seen before fashion, brings bucket loads of energy in this powerful performance. He transcends from a self-absorbed, extremely distasteful feminist’s nightmare to a vulnerable character that evokes a lot of empathy from the viewers. The scene where Mackay’s cocky persona disintegrates in the face of an interview from a TV reporter (April Grace) is enthralling. His last scene where he sits beside his estranged ailing father is noteworthy for the dramatic prowess of Cruise, who lately seems to be typecast and under-utilised in repetitive spy films. But more than anything else, in a film full of lonesome souls, Mackey’s loneliness is so agonizing that he has created the delusional idea of a system that, according to him, will give him a sense of control in this unpredictable world.
Claudia Gator (Melora Walters) was the most broken of all the characters in the film,. She stayed in her apartment doing drugs and deafening herself with loud music, and indulging in casual sex with random people. She was molested by her father as a child, which damaged her beyond repair; but Reilly’s cop character moves through the film as its guardian angel, taking on the task of repairing her and confronts her in the end. The film ends with Claudia breaking into a smile .It is a moment when all her grief subsides and she’s engulfed in a sense of sanity and security for the first time in her life. Her smile transcends beyond the screen and onto us.